WASHINGTON — Today, according to reports, President Trump will sign a new executive order aimed at preventing online censorship by market-dominant Big Tech platforms. According to a draft copy, the order will establish as policy of the United States that “large social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, [are] the functional equivalent of a traditional public forum [and] should not infringe on protected speech.”
The American Principles Project has been leading an effort in recent months to enact changes in federal policy to discourage online censorship. APP’s director of policy and government affairs Jon Schweppe has advocated for a legislative rewrite of Section 230 that would make immunity from civil liability conditional on market-dominant Big Tech platforms adhering to free speech principles.
In response to the President’s expected action, Schweppe released the following statement:
Today President Trump is making clear that his administration is committed to free speech principles, and we applaud him for that.
This is a big day for those who have had their speech unfairly restricted by Big Tech platforms, which have now become the digital replacement to the physical public square. Given that reality, and given the political and cultural influence that these multinational corporations wield, it is of utmost importance to defend free speech values and to protect the essence of democracy itself by encouraging the platforms to observe First Amendment principles and allow the free-flowing exchange of ideas.
Platforms have speech rights, too. Twitter, for example, is well within its rights to censor or otherwise restrict a user’s speech — even the President of the United States. But if Twitter wants to engage in that censorship, they should not be receiving a special subsidy from the federal government in the form of immunity from civil liability. Those advocating for a change to Section 230 want to establish a quid pro quo — if the American people are going to insulate these multinational corporations from legal liability, they need to at least provide a public square in return.
While some may quibble with the details of the executive order, especially with its deference to federal agencies, the main takeaway is that this will set an important precedent for future policymaking: If market-dominant platforms aren’t interested in behaving like a public square with regard to content moderation policies, they shouldn’t receive any sort of special deal from the federal government — period.
On June 3, the American Principles Project and the Lincoln Network will be co-hosting an hour-long virtual discussion spotlighting the intra-conservative debate over how lawmakers should approach policy questions relating to Big Tech, including this issue of censorship.
To schedule an interview with an APP policy expert, contact Paul Dupont at firstname.lastname@example.org.